Washington Square Review

Michelle Chan Brown

Real Estate

Michelle Chan Brown


A man and a woman share a room called present. They clasp hands and spin around until ceiling is floor and walls are liquid. They destroy all the furniture with their raucous stamp. Not destruction but restoration of chair and table to its original intent. Photograph themselves in the act. His hands mottle her back. For later. To remember. Not that they’ll have to. Sweat patterns the walls. Like the furniture, now rendered stick and kindle, they have discovered original forms. For years, they had been utilizing mapping software, equating ambulation plus direction with purpose. Now it is handto-hand, skin to skin, organ to organ. Plug the socket, the drain, the yawning openings where time leaks out like acid. One direction: in. They are the room.

Questions, at first whimsical shadows on the floor: but what is outside? They are not exactly hungry but they would not say no to food. And if they want to prepare a meal, share it, discuss the weather patterns, upon what surface? Separation makes a wet sound. Circling each another is menacing. They collect their selves, just matter on the floor. In companionable silence, they reassemble the elements.

Beyond the room, suddenly, boardwalks in July and a pretty stranger’s teeth star-white in the dark of the bar. Cashmere sweaters and Christmas ornaments. Cancer. In the room, it’s true, no war or typhoon or drone, only the small blisters formed and healed from the strategies they mount against each other. When they sleep, back to back, a new shape. Butterfly. Moth. Winged, furtive, ravenous cockroach. They sleep their separate sleeps and dream of their mothers.

It is discovered that the room is a fiction.

She said: To leave the room hurts me more than it hurts you. He said: Again with the comparisons. She said: You overestimated my impulse for the curatorial. He said: A soft, feminine touch was needed. She said: The chairs are fused with my blood. The table with my spit. And when you were thirsty, I invented a baby, and the milk frothed our goblets. He said: I never claimed thirst. She said: I framed and mounted the pictures. He said: . . . to remind us of what once was. If you could only accept the room, you would see that emptiness is intrinsic to beauty. She said: More than it hurts you. He said: Do you know what’s beyond the room? Only black water. Only mountains. Only staircases that spiral toward fire. She said: You’ve always been a liar. He said: There’s no one to learn from but you.



MICHELLE CHAN BROWN’s first book, Double Agent, was winner of the 2012 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her second book, Motherland, with Wolves (forthcoming, 2015), won the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Cimarron Review, The Missouri Review, and Witness, among other journals and anthologies. She is a Kundiman fellow, Fulbright Scholar, and poetry editor of Drunken Boat